Theatre

Austrians hated this playwright — the feeling was mutual

By John Nathan, February 18, 2010

'If they were honest," says Professor Robert Schuster about his fellow Austrians, "they'd like to gas us today just as they did 50 years ago."

Schuster is the Jewish philosopher character in Heldenplatz, the final play written by Austrian dramatist and novelist Thomas Bernhard, who died in 1989. It arrives at the Arcola Theatre in London this month, and it contains many more of Schuster's observations about his fellow countrymen and women. "Inside every Viennese there is a mass murderer," he says. And: "Generally, Austrians are callous and stupid."

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Review: Serenading Louie

By John Nathan, February 18, 2010

Plays about the American dream tend not to end optimistically. Lanford Wilson's articulate 1970 offering, elegantly revived in Simon Curtis's production, brilliantly entwines the lives of two malfunctioning Chicago couples. With sharp wit they question capitalist values and wallow in thirtysomething disillusionment. But is a play about disappointment a tragedy just because a gun goes off in the final act?

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Review: Heldenplatz

By John Nathan, February 18, 2010

For those who see Austria as a country whose small c conservatism hides capital f fascism, Thomas Bernhard's play is a guilty pleasure.

Set in 1988, the year before its author died, the play rakes over Austria's Nazi past and exposes what Bernhard saw as his country's Nazi present. The premiere in Vienna did not go down well. There were protests and President Kurt Waldheim, whose own Nazi past had by then been revealed, condemned the play as an insult to the Austrian people. And so (tee hee) it is.

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Review: Brighton Beach Memoirs

By John Nathan, February 11, 2010

A shockwave went through Broadway last year when a revival of Neil Simon’s 1963 comedy, Brighton Beach Memoirs, one of the New York writer’s best-loved and most often produced plays, closed within a week of opening.

In an era when musicals reign Simon’s witty and warm autobiographical portrait of a Jewish Brooklyn family struggling through the Depression is about as bankable as straight plays get. Yet the $3-million production, despite being well reviewed, still went belly up, making it one of the biggest flops in recent times.

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Review: Really Old Like Forty Five

By John Nathan, February 10, 2010

If ever there were a play that had state-of-the-nation ambitions it is Tamsin Oglesby’s satire about ageing and ageism. But what a missed opportunity this is, not just to be funny about a scary subject, but to say something interesting about a big problem. Oglesby’s vision of the near future sees the old used as guinea pigs for potentially fatal anti-dementia drugs. Paul Ritter provides a high-octane stand-out performance as the minister in charge of pioneering research hospitals where old people are experimented on but die happy.

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Review: Waiting For Godot

By John Nathan, February 4, 2010

Last year I wondered if Sir Ian McKellen felt let down by Sir Patrick Stewart. So brilliant was McKellen’s Estragon and so bland was Stewart’s Vladimir — now played by Roger Rees — any deep-down satisfaction McKellen might have felt about acting Stewart off the stage must have been tempered by the knowledge that when it comes to Beckett’s waiting tramps, it takes two to tango.

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Puccini in a pub? How bohemian

By Deborah Harris, January 28, 2010

‘I touched the head of a bald man by mistake,” exclaims bass singer Georgios Papaefstratiou.

“And during the fight scene we nearly fell into the audience,” adds baritone Matthew Duncan. The two singers were responding to my question about the pitfalls of putting on a grand opera in the cramped setting of Kilburn’s Cock Tavern.

So, La Bohème in a fringe venue — who could have imagined it? I certainly wanted to, which is why I got involved with the OperaUpClose’s production of Puccini’s gypsy love story.

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Review: I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother

By John Nathan, January 28, 2010

There are a lot of plays about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a subject that exercises playwrights across the political spectrum and the theatrical landscape, from the top of the establishment to the fringiest agitprop.

So many offerings are there in fact, you would think that a major season would have sprung up by now. Such an event might allow audiences who seek out one perspective to be exposed to another.

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Review: The Little Dog Laughed

By John Nathan, January 28, 2010

What fun. And what paradoxes are exposed when a ruthless lesbian Hollywood agent (Tamsin Greig) attempts to hide the sexuality of her gay client (Rupert Friend) so that he can land the role of a gay – yes, gay – character in a breakthrough movie.

The point so eloquently made by Douglas Carter Beane’s cracking little comedy on Hollywood hypocrisy — and so wittily expressed by Greig’s megalomaniacal Diane — is that for a straight actor to take on a gay character is brave, whereas for a gay actor, it’s more like bragging.

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When a Jew loves an Arab

By John Nathan, January 21, 2010

So vast and varied is London theatre that sometimes it throws up unplanned seasons on its own, with no controlling hand. Plays about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict abound. Well, there are a few.

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